Here’s How The Cast Of Grease Have Changed, Nearly 40 Years On

Almost 40 years on from the release of Grease and its fans are still hopelessly devoted. Sadly, several cast members have now passed away, but many are still with us and still working. Indeed, the 1978 musical hit is still such a big deal that there’s even talk of its stars reuniting for an anniversary event in 2018. But if there is a reunion, will the T-Birds, Pink Ladies and company even recognize each other anymore? Let’s find out.

10. Frankie Avalon (the Teen Angel)

To play the role of the Teen Angel, the Grease producers needed someone who was instantly recognizable as a symbol of teen culture. Elvis Presley was considered for the part, but it actually went to actor, singer and one-time teen idol Frankie Avalon. And it would come to define his entire career.

Grease is the most successful thing I’ve ever been part of,” he told Playbill in 2003. “If I go to a restaurant or if I’m at an airport and people recognize me, it amazes me that most of them know me from Grease.” And the 76-year-old ex-Teen Angel is still working today and still selling out shows.

ADVERTISEMENT

9. John Travolta (Danny Zuko)

Did you know that the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler, was considered for the role of Danny? Winkler turned it down, however, and so actor and singer John Travolta – fresh off 1977 hit Saturday Night Fever – took on the role instead. And the result was an iconic performance that made Travolta into one of the biggest stars of the ’70s.

But even fans of Travolta would probably admit that – his early hits aside – he hasn’t been that great at picking movies since. Indeed, some of his films, like 2000’s Battlefield Earth, would have been career-destroyers for anybody else. But Travolta’s career is currently on an upturn. His work in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, for example, saw him nominated for several awards.

ADVERTISEMENT

8. Stockard Channing (Betty Rizzo)

Stockard Channing’s performance as Grease’s tough but vulnerable Rizzo won her a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress in 1979. And though she was actually 33 years old during filming – and had to have freckles painted on her face to make her look younger – she was perfectly convincing as a teenager.

ADVERTISEMENT

And Channing has been acting consistently, more or less, ever since Grease. In fact, she’s picked up plenty more awards in her time, including two Emmys in 2002 for her work on The West Wing and The Matthew Shepard Story. She also appeared on The Good Wife from 2012 to 2016 and has plenty more roles in the pipeline, too.

ADVERTISEMENT

7. Didi Conn (Frenchy)

Didi Conn played the adorable Frenchy – although initially, she thought that Rizzo was the bigger role. She got her hair dyed pink especially for her audition, after taking inspiration from a real beautician called Frenchy. And a few years later, she was one of a handful of cast members to return for Grease 2.

ADVERTISEMENT

Unfortunately, Grease 2 was a huge flop, and it never led to the big franchise the producers had hoped for. Luckily, however, Conn’s career escaped intact, and she went on to appear in plenty of films and TV shows. Plus in 2016 she made a cameo as a waitress in the highly anticipated Grease Live.

ADVERTISEMENT

6. Barry Pearl (Doody)

Barry Pearl actually started out playing Sonny in the original Grease musical, but for the movie he took on the role of Doody. And although it was a big boost to his career, in 1998 he told People that, “I don’t think any of the T-Birds have gotten the celebrity we would have liked.”

ADVERTISEMENT

And yet throughout the 21st century, Pearl continued to get a steady stream of stage and TV work. Moreover, in 2016 he appeared alongside Didi Conn to represent the old Grease cast in Grease Live, a job he was thrilled to get. That same year, he also wed his girlfriend of 15 years.

ADVERTISEMENT

5. Michael Tucci (Sonny)

Michael Tucci gave up a career in law to pursue his acting dreams, and that led him to the role of the T-Bird Sonny in Grease. And in turn, Grease, catapulted him onto other work and made him a popular TV actor. In the late ’80s, for example, he starred in shows such as Diagnosis Murder and The Paper Chase.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tucci eventually took a break from acting, however, and indeed he hasn’t been on screen much in the past two decades. He did make an appearance, though, in the 2013 Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy buddy film The Heat, and so perhaps Grease fans will be seeing more of him soon.

ADVERTISEMENT

4. Jamie Donnelly (Jan)

There was only one obstacle to Jamie Donelly getting the role of teenager Jan – the fact that she had already started to go gray. And so the actress dyed her locks and had to keep dying them on set because her hair grew so fast. In the end, in fact, Donnelly had to actually shade over her roots every single day with a black crayon. But it all paid off: Jan was one of the most endearing Pink Ladies.

ADVERTISEMENT

Donnelly stopped acting for a bit after Grease, working as an acting coach instead and only returning to the scene in 1998. But she immediately got some hits under her belt in the decade that followed, including the TV show Monk, the movie Cyrus and the acclaimed Johnny Depp movie Black Mass.

ADVERTISEMENT

3. Dinah Manoff (Marty)

Dinah Manoff, daughter of actress Lee Grant and screenwriter Arnold Manoff, never understood why she was cast as Marty in Grease. Because she couldn’t actually sing or dance! “I don’t know why they cast me!” she told the Seattle Times in 2010. “I was sure they wouldn’t.” But luckily, they did.

ADVERTISEMENT

However, Manoff soon learned the ins and outs of the industry, and by 1980 she had picked up a Tony Award for her Broadway debut in I Ought to Be in Pictures. She then appeared in multiple films and TV shows, including Child’s Play and the Golden Girls spin-off Empty Nest. And although her last acting credit was in 2009, she’s still a notable name.

ADVERTISEMENT

2. Lorenzo Lamas (Tom)

President Gerald Ford’s actor son Steven Ford was up for the role of Tom, Sandy’s boyfriend. But when he stepped out, Lorenzo Lamas stepped in. And he was incredibly excited about his big break. “I was going to have some scenes with Olivia – the goddess!” he told People in 1998.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lamas now credits Grease with kick-starting his whole career, and he’s very grateful for it. Indeed, since 1978 he’s been racking up the acting credits, appearing in soap operas Falcon Crest and The Bold and the Beautiful, in addition to several straight-to-DVD films. More recently, he popped up in Sharknado 3.

ADVERTISEMENT

1. Olivia Newton-John (Sandy Olsson)

Olivia Newton-John had already had several music hits by the time Grease was released, but it was her portrayal of Sandy Olsson that made her a real star. Ironically, however, Newton-John never actually wanted the part of Sandy at first. She claimed she was too old for it, but obviously, fans are very pleased indeed that she changed her mind.

ADVERTISEMENT

After Grease, Newton-John’s music career went from strength to strength, and she continued to act in high-profile movies as well. Today she’s a beloved entertainer, but sadly her personal life hasn’t always gone so well. In 1992 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She overcame it, but in 2017 announced that the disease had returned. Newton-John’s prognosis, however, is currently good.

ADVERTISEMENT

You’ve heard about how the cast have changed, but do you know the behind-the-scenes secrets from the movie? Well, these 20 off-screen stories and scandals prove that there was just as much melodrama and romance behind the camera as there was in front of it.

ADVERTISEMENT

20. Sandy wasn’t always an Aussie

ADVERTISEMENT

Anyone who has ever watched even ten minutes of Grease will realise that the female lead is Australian. But did you know that Sandy was of a totally different nationality in the original musical? On Broadway, Sandy was actually an all-American sweetheart with the last name “Dumbrowski.” Olivia Newton-John’s casting put an end to that, though, and the character was also given the much simpler surname of “Olsen.”

19. Fonzie almost played Danny

Henry Winkler was famous for playing Fonzie in classic ’70s sitcom Happy Days, and he was also considered for the role of Danny in Grease. In fact, it seems that Winkler was actually Paramount’s top choice for the character, over John Travolta. Winkler said no to the movie, however, because he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a young working-class cool guy in leathers for the rest of his career.

ADVERTISEMENT

18. Stockard Channing was in her thirties during filming

ADVERTISEMENT

Many of the actors cast to play high schoolers in the film were actually well out of their teens, but Stockard Channing was the oldest of them all at 33. The pretty actress even ended up having freckles painted on her face in an attempt to make her look younger.

17. Olivia Newton-John was stitched into her pants

Olivia Newton-John’s iconic transformation at the end of Grease is one of the most recognizable scenes in movie history, but have you ever thought that her tight-fitting leather outfit looked just a tad uncomfortable? Well, that’s because it was. The black pants belonged to Newton-John herself, and at the time of filming they were 25 years old. So when the zip on them inevitably broke, wardrobe literally had to take a needle and thread and stitch the actress back in.

ADVERTISEMENT

16. The cast chomped through 100,000 pieces of gum during filming

ADVERTISEMENT

Bubble gum features prominently in Grease, with practically every high school character chewing a mouthful of the sticky stuff at some point in the movie. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the cast got through no less than 100,000 pieces of bubble gum during production. And to make sure fans were chomping too, Grease bubble gum packs, complete with free photo cards, were also manufactured to promote the film!

15. “Greased Lightnin’” wasn’t originally meant to have been sung by Travolta

John Travolta’s involvement in the movie came with a few conditions: he wanted Elvis-style “blue-black hair” and he wanted to sing “Greased Lightnin’” – despite the fact that it was Kenickie who belted it out in the original stage production. Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie, was understandably not best pleased to have the iconic song taken away from him.

ADVERTISEMENT

14. John Travolta’s sister is in the movie

ADVERTISEMENT

Ellen Travolta, the big sister of John, made a cameo in Grease as a waitress. The actress went on to appear in the popular TV shows Happy Days, Joanie Loves Chachi and Charles in Charge throughout the ’80s. But in Grease she had just one line: “Oh, there’s Danny and Sandy!”

13. A Deep Throat star was almost in the film

Actor Harry Reems was originally picked to play Coach Calhoun, but there was just one problem: the movie Reem was best known for at the time was infamous porn flick Deep Throat. Paramount got worried that this unsavory association would turn some members of the public off the movie, and so it replaced the porn star with Sid Caesar.

ADVERTISEMENT

12. There was romance on set

ADVERTISEMENT

Jeff Conaway seduced many extras during filming: so many, in fact, that, in an interview with Vanity Fair almost 40 years later, Stockard Channing remembered, “His trailer at lunchtime was really rocking.” But the Kenickie actor also had a big crush on Olivia Newton-John – even though he would eventually end up marrying her sister Rona. They were together for five years, before divorcing in 1985.

11. Marty couldn’t dance

Dinah Manoff played Pink Lady Marty in the film, but there was a slight problem with the casting: Manoff could neither dance nor hold a tune! And so if you watch closely, you’ll see the actress is subtly absent from the biggest musical scenes. “They were hiding me. I couldn’t really keep up!” she admitted to the Seattle Times in 2010.

ADVERTISEMENT

10. Annette Charles could have died on set

ADVERTISEMENT

Annette Charles played sultry dancer Cha Cha, and she had some of the best moves in the film. But if you watch her closely during the drag racing scene, you’ll see the actress looks anything but fit and healthy. In fact, she has to use the vehicles as a support just to stay standing. That’s because Charles was actually in a lot of pain at the time – she was having a tubal pregnancy and was rushed to hospital right after the scene was finished.

9. Rizzo’s hickeys were the real deal

Jeff Conaway wanted Rizzo’s “Hickeys from Kenickie” to look authentic… and so he gave actress Stockard Channing actual love bites in between takes. Now that’s taking method acting to a whole new level!

ADVERTISEMENT

8. Marie Osmond was nearly Sandy

ADVERTISEMENT

Marie Osmond was offered the part of Sandy, but she said no because she disagreed with the script on a moral level. Speaking to Larry King in 2006 the singer explained: “I didn’t want my teenagers some day to say… ‘You have to go bad to get the boy.’ It was just a personal choice as a some-day mother.”

7. Grease could have been an animation

Can you imagine Grease being a cartoon? Well, it might have happened. Steve Krantz and Ralph Bakshi owned the rights to Grease first, and they thought it would work well as an animated musical. Thankfully the idea fell through, and the only cartoon jivers we see are in the opening credits.

ADVERTISEMENT

6. Scientology had a presence on set

ADVERTISEMENT

John Travolta joined the Church of Scientology in 1975, and he made no secret of his religious beliefs on the set of Grease. Indeed, when director Randal Kleiser’s foot became infected from all the dirty water at the drag racing scene, Travolta claimed he’d healed him with a Scientology “touch assist.” Yes, really.

5. Jamie Donnelly’s gray locks had to be recolored every day

Jamie Donnelly might only have been 30 when she played Pink Lady Jan in the movie, but she was already going gray. And so the actress had to continually dye over her roots, because let’s face it, a high school teen with gray hair would definitely have given the game away. Unfortunately, though, Donnelly’s hair grew extremely fast. So fast, in fact, that she had to use a black crayon to color over her roots every single day.

ADVERTISEMENT

4. Grease was nearly a franchise

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s little wonder that Paramount were very keen to capitalize on the huge success of Grease, and the studio originally had plans for three more films and a TV show. What would they have entailed? Unfortunately, Grease 2 was such a disaster that the rest of the franchise was canceled, and so we’ll never know.

3. The movie had a nod to Rebel Without a Cause

Many years before Grease, James Dean starred as the ultimate rebellious teenager in 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause. And because Dean’s red wind-breaker is so iconic in that film, John Travolta’s Danny got his own blue breaker to wear in Grease.

ADVERTISEMENT

2. All the Coca-Cola logos had to be removed

ADVERTISEMENT

The filmmakers brokered a promotional deal with Pepsi just before Grease came out, which caused one slight problem: logos for their competitor Coca-Cola could be seen throughout the film. Reshooting the scenes would have cost far too much time and money, however, and so all the Coca-Cola logos had to be removed or disguised with optical mattes. Although if you look hard enough, you’ll see that one Coca-Cola sign was left in, by accident or design….

1. A particular word is never spoken in the film

The movie’s famous slogan is “Grease is the word”: pretty ironic, because the word “grease” isn’t spoken once in the whole film. Yes, while the word obviously appears in slightly different form in the the lyrics to the song “Greased Lightnin’”, the scriptwriters obviously decided that Grease wasn’t the word they were looking for after all.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT